Most general contractors (GC) who have worked on a LEED project will tell you that getting the required documentation from their subcontractors during the submittal process is like pulling teeth.

It all starts with a clear understanding of the data required and recognizing the specific information known as “LEED Credit Supporting Documents.” Selecting subcontractors that are unaware of these detailed requirements can be a significant obstacle in the LEED construction administration process, leading to more coordination and extra time, which then translates into increased costs.

Product Data Submittal Process

Product data (PD) submittals contain the manufacturer/supplier data that describes in detail the building materials proposed for use during construction. The subcontractors supply the PD submittals to the general contractor, who passes that information along to the construction team for their review.

The construction team is comprised of all the parties that assist the owner in the construction of the building. The key players are typically the architecture team, engineering groups and, in many LEED project cases, the LEED consultant. Each member reviews the submittals applicable to them and sends their review back to the GC, who then forwards it to the subcontractor.

If the submittal is marked “approved” by the team members, then it goes back to the subcontractors and those products are cleared for use on-site. If the submittal is marked “not approved” (or otherwise known as “revise and resubmit/rejected”), then the subcontractor must review the construction team’s comments, resubmit the revised information and start the process all over again. This can happen as many times as needed until all the submitted products are approved.

In this submittal process, all material information and documentation originates with the subcontractors. LEED projects require specific product information (the LEED Credit Supporting Documents referred to above), so ensuring that this information makes its way into the LEED consultant’s hands during the submittal process is critical.

It must be reviewed alongside the LEED credit requirements in order to determine compliance. If this information is not provided at all, or the wrong information is given, then typically there is no choice but to mark the submittal “revise and resubmit/reject.”

What are LEED Credit Supporting Documents?

Product data and the product’s LEED compliance information are essentially one and the same, which is why we always advise GCs that they need to either be submitted together in the same submittal package or, at a minimum, issued at the same time in separate submittals. This allows for a simultaneous review with the rest of the construction team and is generally the most logical and time-efficient process.

LEED Credit Supporting Documents verify that a product complies with the LEED credit requirements. Often called a “cut sheet,” it can come in the form of a PD sheet, MSDS or manufacturer data. Or, the supplier might provide what is known as a “LEED letter.” Due to increased LEED presence in the construction industry, many suppliers/manufacturers have created these LEED specific compliance documents for their products.

No matter how the information comes in, it must contain the correct information in order to determine LEED credit compliance/contribution. The subcontractor’s inability to identify and properly include the required information creates inefficiencies in the submittal process and results in lengthy review periods and coordination time.

Subcontractor Selection

General contractors typically select their subcontractors based on their quality of work, time-efficiency, expertise, reputation and most importantly, their cost/bid number. However on most LEED jobs, their knowledge and experience with LEED documentation isn’t taken into consideration.

Sometimes subcontractors don’t know they are working on a LEED job until they are asked to provide LEED information in the submittal process. LEED is just not part of the conversation, but shouldn’t it be? Why not solve the problem at the outset instead of wasting time hassling subcontractors after the project is underway?

Selecting subcontractors that will make the process easier is the simple solution here. They cannot start the work until their trade’s product submittals have been “approved,” so the longer it takes for them to get it right, the higher the risk the project will go over schedule. More than anything, the owner wants to finish construction on time and within budget and will hold the GC  accountable if these goals aren’t met.

Hiring the Right Subcontractors

It is critical for GCs to consider LEED experience and knowledge in the decision making process when selecting subcontractors. Ask them: Have you ever worked on a LEED project before? Do you know how to provide accurate LEED supporting documentation? Are your suppliers able to provide you with the LEED information needed when asked?

If their answers are “yes,” and they meet your other selection criteria, then you’ve found the right subcontractors for your LEED project. On the other hand, be wary of selecting subcontractors without the knowledge of how to provide proper LEED documentation. If that happens, you may need to bring in additional resources to assist in preparing the documentation.

If you didn’t account for this added expense when you bid for the job, then you may find yourself at risk of exceeding your budget.

Hawkins M. Thomas, LEED AP BD+C, is a Consultant with Paladino DC, the East Coast office of Paladino and Company.

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